The Washington Bullets' attempt to build a new home court winning streak will face a stern test Saturday night when they face the Los Angeles Lakers before a sellout crowd at Capital Centre.
The Utah Jazz ended a nine-game run at home by the Bullets by defeating them, 106-98, Tuesday. However, Washington rebounded with a road win of its own, defeating the Bulls, 98-92, Thursday night in Chicago.
In the town that invented the phrase "winning ugly," the Bullets lent further definition to it, shooting just 44 percent from the field and mishandling the ball for a total of 23 turnovers.
There were some redeeming factors, though, including a 57-46 edge in rebounding, five players in double-figure scoring and a defensive effort that held the Bulls to 37 percent accuracy from the field.
"If we get efforts like that we'll be in a lot of games," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "That's the way we have to play to win (in the absence of center Jeff Ruland, out with a fractured left ankle) -- slow things down, control the game's tempo and play great defense."
All of the above will be necessary against a Los Angeles juggernaut that tonight at Cleveland won its 23rd of 26 games this season. Playing their second game in two nights Wednesday in Milwaukee, the champion Lakers played what passes for subpar for them and still emerged with a victory over one of the NBA's better teams.
"And the Bucks were up for the game," said forward James Worthy. "That's how it is with us, everyone comes looking for us and they usually play their best games."
Whatever the opposition's best is hasn't mattered very often.
Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Worthy and guard Earvin (Magic) Johnson seem to take turns deciding which one will play the role of hero in any given contest. Add to that performers of the quality of Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, Maurice Lucas and Kurt Rambis, yet more depth in Mitch Kupchak, Mike McGee and Larry Spriggs and it's easy to see why the team has accomplished so much.
Of particular importance to Washington will be coming up with a way to slow down the visitors' running game. The Lakers are the highest-scoring team in the NBA, often scoring fast-break baskets even after the opposition has made shots from the field.
Fatigue may be one factor that could work in the Bullets' favor. Tonight's game will be the fourth in five nights for Los Angeles.
But Coach Pat Riley says his team reponds well to challenges. Besides the sellout crowd, there's also the incentive of going against Manute Bol, whose defense spearheaded the victory over Chicago.
"The big fella is it, that's all I've got to say," said Cliff Robinson, who scored 27 points and even outrebounded Bol, 17-13, against the Bulls. "He is a force to be reckoned with, that's for sure."
And against Abdul-Jabbar?